Phil Jackson was welcomed to New York by both Carmelo Anthony and the Madison Square Garden crowd as the Knicks played host to the Pacers on Wednesday.
The Hall of Fame coach was formally named president of the Knicks at a press conference on Tuesday, where he explained his vision for a new culture for a team that has been a major disappointment on the court this season. Jackson, who won two titles as a player with the Knicks in the 1970s and 11 more as a coach with the Bulls and Lakers, said he was moved by the standing ovation he received from the MSG faithful.
"Pretty terrific," he told ESPN during an in-game interview. "I wish I could go out on this court and play again. I was that inspired."
Noting that this year's Knicks, who entered Wednesday with a 27-40 record, had endured "a lot of hardships" and were suffering through "what many would say is a real disastrous year," Jackson said that retaining Anthony is a top priority. The All-Star forward can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"We've got to make a pitch to Carmelo about how good this team is going to be and how much he's going to enjoy playing for it," Jackson said. "I think he likes playing here. He's had some great experiences on this court."
At Tuesday's press conference, Jackson said that Anthony was in the Knicks' "future plans" and added that he believed Anthony "still had another level he can get to" as a player.
CBSSports.com reported that Anthony was receptive to Jackson's assessment and his ability to offer guidance.
"I was hoping that I would be part of the future plans. I never once said that I wanted to leave New York or anything like that. The only thing I said was I'm going to dabble and try the free agency out, that I was going to opt out and become a free agent. ... I'm excited about the opportunity to hopefully work with Phil."
"With Phil's expertise, I can rely on him and talk to him and use him as a mentor to try to get to that next level," he said. "I'm not at a stage where I'm sold on this or sold on that. I want to get better. I'm looking to get better, and with that, hopefully we're winning championships. I'm all about enhancing my game. I'm all about that. If Phil can help that, I'm all about that."
That Jackson received a hero's welcome is no great surprise. He said Tuesday that winning a title as Knicks president would put a "capstone" on his career, as the 1967 second-round pick played 10 seasons for the Knicks, who captured titles in both 1970 and 1973.
"This is part of what I am, being with the Knicks was some glory years," he said during the ESPN interview. "This is the Mecca of basketball a lot of people will say, especially the New Yorkers. It's a great opportunity. I think it's a good opportunity for the Knicks and a perfect opportunity for me."
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